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Adaptive BREEDING for productive, sustainable and resilient FORESTs under climate change

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - B4EST (Adaptive BREEDING for productive, sustainable and resilient FORESTs under climate change)

Reporting period: 2019-11-01 to 2021-04-30

With 161 million ha, forests cover approximately 38% of the EU-28’s land area that is key to biodiversity conservation, carbon storage and the provision of renewable raw materials for the bio-based economy. European forests are experiencing rapid climate change characterized by high uncertainty in its timing and magnitude. Climate change increases forest vulnerability to damage and disease, fostering more frequent and intense abiotic and biotic threats that affect forest sustainability and cause severe economic losses.
The strategic goal of B4EST is to increase forest resilience and productivity under climate change, while maintaining genetic diversity and key ecological functions and fostering a competitive EU bio-based economy. To reach its goal, B4EST will make scientific, technological and implementation breakthroughs to :
• Provide better scientific knowledge of species vulnerability to major abiotic and biotic disturbances and of trade-offs between production, resistance/resilience and reproductive capacity
• Diversify the portfolio of forest reproductive material (FRM). Innovative FRM development requires the: 1) identification of species, gene pools and genotypes that can deliver forest health and productivity under changing environments, 2) definition of optimal genetic diversity to preserve the adaptive capacity of planted forests under high uncertainty, and 3) development of cost- and time-efficient breeding strategies that meet the diversity and rapid change of both environmental and economic contexts.
• Make the portfolio of FRM accessible to forest managers through secure seed/plant supply, decision tools and recommendations. Local and regional assessment of vulnerabilities and opportunities is crucial to identifying efficient adaptation strategies. The industrial partners in the consortium will address this challenge from the end-user perspective.
• Integrate a landscape-level view and a transnational forest sector analysis of risks, costs and benefits.
To cover the geographical, economic and societal needs of forestry in Europe, B4EST will work with 8 conifers and broadleaves with advanced breeding programmes or that are case studies of pest-threatened forests.
To help scientific community and forest practitioners to evaluate climate change impacts and plan adaptation strategies, ClimateEU database, Climate Matching Tool and Climate Downscaling Tool, provide free and simple access to historical and future climate data. They allowed first analysis of risks of extreme events such as droughts or pest outbreaks. Revisited and new genetic experiments using reaction norms at different spatial and temporal scales provided first information of key environmental drivers and confirmed significant genetic variation for phenotypic plasticity of important functional traits. Both Universal Transfer Functions (UTFs) and Trait-based Species distribution models (ΔTraitSDM) provided useful insight into the sensitivity of species and populations to climate change at regional and species range scales.
If well-documented trade-offs between traits of interest have been confirmed in a large set of case-studies, no evident limitations for multi-trait breeding were detected. As expected, stronger phenotypic integration was observed in the more stressful environments. For most association studies, genotyping activities have been finalized and preliminary analysis on Maritime pine and Poplar confirmed local adaptation patterns. High degree of polygenicity and negative selection signature for many traits of interest in all environments let expect possible rapid adaptation of populations and high efficiency of genomic selection.
Three new 50K SNP genotyping tools have been developed for six major species (Fraxinus spp, poplar spp, Picea abies, Pinus sylvestris, P. pinea and P. pinaster) and have been made commercially available worldwide. New genetic evaluation scenarios targeting larger implementation of genomic based evaluation opened up the possibility to integrate more explicitly either the biotic and abiotic environment and its changes or extra sources of genomic variation linked to non-additive gene actions.
Stakeholder and end-user inputs on their preferences for decision support tool design helped development of different modelling tools. The joint Swedish-Finnish Scots pine deployment recommendations and decision support tool Planter’s guide was released. A generic platform dedicated to the successful management of multi-trait and multi-criteria trade-offs in FRM deployment was constructed. The simulation tool LUBERON2 was updated to investigate the effect of silviculture and stochastic disturbance events on stand-level performance and genetic diversity. Multiple uncertainties associated to FRM performance prediction were discussed to improve their communication in recommendations.
Demands of various societal groups towards improved FRM revealed high expectations for adaptive strategies such as diversification of tree species, artificial regeneration with improved FRM, and enrichment with FRM better adapted to future climate changes. The analysis of economic efficiency of Maritime pine breeding strategies showed that phenotyping is the major source of cost after maintenance of breeding populations when genotyping costs represent a limited extra-cost. For four different regions in Europe, research teams together with stakeholders identified the most important challenges and goals related to the use of improved FRM and outlined alternative deployment and management strategies currently under evaluation.
Two consortium physical meetings, a website, blogs and social media have built a strong foundation for active interactions between WPs and with stakeholders before Covid-19 pandemic. From March 2020, experimental field and lab work was significantly delayed and digital means (webinars, virtual training courses) has become extremely important to maintain active exchanges in and outside B4EST consortium.
B4EST brings together 19 public and private partners, contributing a wide variety of skills, expertise and long-standing experience in the area of forest tree breeding, elaboration of recommendations for their deployment and evaluation of their benefit for the forest sector.
Key climatic and epidemiological information have been gathered to identify key biotic and abiotic factors underlying species productivity, resilience and future adaptation. Collaborative efforts are deployed to assess ad manage trade-offs between forest productivity, resilience to threats and adaptive capacity. Increase prediction accuracy and better management of genetic diversity is expected from selection models integrating genomic information produced in the project. Successful integration of new knowledge on forest resilience, forest management options and economics still constitutes a major challenge that B4EST is facing when building operational decision support tools.
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